Doc Rivers said he wanted to stay focused on the Clippers in his introductory press conference (which was shown live on NBA TV), but you knew there were going to be a lot of Boston questions.
Rivers admitted he didn’t plan to leave Boston — he said he went so far to say he wanted out of the negotiations and he told Celtics GM Danny Ainge he was coming back.
“I kind of pulled out myself, not from being mad or anything, I just had enough of it…” Rivers said of the drawn-out negotiations. “I called Danny and said, ‘I’m staying, I’m coaching that’s what I am, let’s move forward.’ Then two hours later he told me ‘no, you’re not staying, you’re going.’”
Through it all Rivers said what drew him to the Clippers job was the challenge — he didn’t back away from title talk and aspirations. Which is a new attitude around the Clippers.
“Quite honestly, at this point in my life it’s the only reason I’m coaching, is to try to win titles,” Rivers said. “For us, we have to prove we can win a series first and then build from there.”
Is this Clippers roster really ready to win a title?
“We didn’t win it last year, so there is clearly work to do…” Rivers said. “The reason I wanted this when it came available is because of what they have, not what they don’t have.
“I clearly think this is an extremely talented basketball team, there were times in last year when they were the best team. What we have to figure out is, with the group we have can we do that in the postseason as opposed to just the regular season?”
If the Clippers are going to contend it is going to have to start with more consistent defense and protection of the paint. The Clippers were a top 10 defensive team overall but allowed the second highest shooting percentage in the restricted area in the league and the fourth highest in the paint outside the restricted area.
Rivers had great defenses in Boston, but Tom Thibodeau was his assistant coach who set that up and Kevin Garnett was the guy anchoring everything and quarterbacking the defense in the paint. Can he run that same strong-side overload defense with the Clippers?
“With the personnel here for sure,” Rivers said. “I think offenses have improved, you can’t do it exactly the same anymore, I just don’t think you can, guys have wised up to what we were doing, but with DeAndre (Jordan) and Blake (Griffin) I think you can absolutely form an unbelievable defense. They are long, they are athletic, that always starts a good defense, and we have that in house right now.”
That Clippers roster is going to need tweaks, and Rivers will have input on that (more than he did in Boston). He will not get Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce — Boston plans to trade both of them and the stipulations in the compensation package for Rivers said the Clippers and Celtics cannot trade players until next summer.
Even with roster tweaks, in the end one of the most respected coaches in the league is going to have to get more out of the guys already on the roster — particularly Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — if they are going to take the step up to serious contenders.
Doc Rivers isn’t backing away from that challenge. Instead, he is putting it right out there from Day 1.